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Notes on the Revolution / Column #40

Notes on the Revolution

Column #40

December 6, 2019

Third World socialist revolutions in power

By Charles McKelvey

    In Wednesday’s episode of Notes on the Revolution, we looked at the lessons to be learned from the socialist revolutions in China, Vietnam, and Cuba with respect to the taking of political power by the people.  In today’s episode, we look at the achievements of the three Third World socialist revolutions in political power.  Their achievements not only indicate future possibilities in any particular nation, but if we also take into account the relations that the revolutionary governments have formed among themselves and with other Third World revolutionary and progressive governments, they also can be seen as the first steps toward the development of alternative norms of international relations.  They can be interpreted as the beginning of a possible global transition to a more just, democratic and sustainable world-system, today in competition with another possibility, that of a global military dictatorship under U.S. direction.

      The three Third World socialist revolutions took on powerful national and international actors, and to sustain themselves, they must have the support of the people.  They originally attained the support of the people with politically intelligent proposals, and when they arrived to power, they sought to consolidate popular support through decisive action in defense of popular needs and interests.  With this intention, all three took the decisive necessary measures.  They nationalized foreign-owned lands and companies, and they implemented land reform programs that distributed lands to peasants.  In addition, they adopted specific measures that visibly demonstrated their commitment to the needs of the people, such as literacy and health programs and the reduction of utilities rates and rents. 

      The nationalization of foreign companies and the redistribution of land, necessary for the delivery of promises to the people, had adverse consequences for the interests of powerful international and national actors, thus ensuring their permanent hostility and aggression.  Once these decisive steps were taken, the revolutions were driven to continue to search for effective social transformations that responded to the needs, interests, and desires of the majority of the people, because continued support of the people is the ultimate defense of the revolutionary leadership against the powerful enemies that decisive revolutionary steps have created.

    In accordance with the need of the revolutions in power to maintain popular consensus in support of the revolutionary process, the three socialist revolutions have developed alternative political processes, different from those of representative democracy.  The alternative system is characterized by three components: first, legislative assemblies of people’s delegates and deputies, in which authority is concentrated; secondly, mass organizations that are central to public discussion; and thirdly, a vanguard political party that leads and educates but does not have the authority to decide.  In the case of Cuba, the Constitution establishes the National Assembly as the highest authority of the nation, the deputies of which are elected by the delegates of the 169 municipal assemblies of the nation, delegates who themselves are elected through direct and secret voting in small voting districts, in which voters choose from candidates nominated by the people in local neighborhood nomination assemblies.  Such an alternative system eliminates the financing of electoral campaigns and think tanks by the wealthy, thus abolishing the distortion of public debate by particular interests, a phenomenon that gives rise to confusion and division among the people.  Whereas the structures of representative democracy were developed in the context of an ongoing conflict between elites and popular sectors, the alternative structures, which we could call popular democracy, were forged in the social and political context of a triumphant revolution driven to maintain popular support on the basis of consensus.

      It could be said, therefore, that the three Third World socialist revolutions are forging more advanced political structures, inasmuch as they foster public consensus and political stability on a basis of public debate not distorted by particular interests.  With greater appreciation of this achievement, the opinion makers of the North ought to analyze the emerging alternative system of popular democracy, looking for insights that could be creatively adapted to their own nations, rather than ethnocentrically and superficially viewing departures from structures of representative democracy as violations of human rights. 

    Related to the effort to develop an informed understanding among the people, the socialist nations have developed public television, radio, and newspapers, which promote the education of the people and cultivate citizenship values.  This work stands in contrast to corporate ownership of the media, which tend distort news and encourage consumerism.  It should be appreciated rather that condemned as a violation of freedom of speech, an accusation that confuses restrictions on speech with restrictions on property ownership.

    In order to maintain the support of the people, the Third World socialist revolutions, in addition to needing to promote popular consensus, needed to promote the economic and social development of the nation.  The three revolutions saw the state as playing an important and necessary role in the economy, first, by formulating a national plan for social and economic development; and secondly, as a key actor in the economy, including ownership of economic enterprises.  As they evolved, the revolutions learned in their practical experience two lessons with respect to private property.  First, there is a tendency among the people, confronting material needs, to develop small-scale productive and service enterprises.  Secondly, there is a role for middle and large-scale private capital as well as foreign capital, responding to particular needs in the development plan.  They therefore arrived to the formulation that a socialist economy has various forms of property, including, in addition to state-owned property, small and large-scale national private property, foreign private property, state-foreign joint ventures, and cooperatives.  However, in their analyses, the market and the profit motive do not rule in a socialist economy; rather, the state rules, and it defines the role of private property in the economy, in accordance with its plan for the social and economic development of the nation.

    With respect to both the political system and the economy, the socialist revolutions of China, Vietnam, and Cuba were moving forward in a social and political context that had been freed of the distorting influence of the particular interests of the corporate elite, whose discourse in the promotion of their particular interests distorts the public discussion and confuses and divides the people.  A socialist revolution in political power provides a far better context for a national dialogue involving the leadership and the people, making possible understanding, consensus and political stability. 

      In the three episodes of Notes of the Revolution during this past week, I have maintained that advances in our understanding of the modern world-system and the capitalist world-economy are attained by taking seriously the insights that have been developed by social movements of the colonized and neocolonized, especially the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cuban socialist revolutions.  Their experiences provide lessons with respect to the taking of political power by the people.  And they also demonstrate that, once the revolution takes political power on behalf of the people, the revolutionary government is driven to take decisive steps in defense of the people, and in the long-term, it can develop politically stable structures of popular democracy, and it can promote the economic and social development of the nation through the formulation of a development plan, in which the state is one of the key actors. 

    These lessons are available for us to learn, if we appreciate that the Third World socialist revolutions are developing a more mature understanding of the modern world-system than is possible under the structures of the capitalist world-economy and representative democracy, in which the debate is poisoned by the placing of particular interests above the desire to understand.

    This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.

Edited by Ed Newman
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